Kings of Scotland – The 50 word King-list challenge
A little while ago I set myself a silly challenge. I wondered if I could sum up the reigns of the Kings of Scotland (and Queens) who ruled the country, in 50 words apiece. I was inspired by the annals written by the monks in medieval times who attempted to sum up what happened in each year that was of interest in a few words, and the early lists of Kings that were recorded. Obviously people will have their own ideas about what was important that happened in a reign, but I was focussing on the characters themselves, and this is what I came up with! I have used the Scottish reigning titles; so James I of England is James VI and so on. As a point of interest the monarchs of Great Britain will adopt the higher number if there were historically separate Kings of Scotland and England with the same name, so if there is a King Robert of the United Kingdom, he will be King Robert IV, even though there was never a King Robert of England.
Kenneth I MacAlpin, King of Dalriada and then Pictavia. In his time Dalriada fell to the Norse Vikings and Iona Abbey was abandoned. He raided south of the Forth, and his lands were raided by both Strathclyde Britons (Dunblane) and Danes (Dunkeld). He died at Forteviot in February 858.
Donald I MacAlpin was Kenneth’s brother. He was only King for four years, and did not rule over Dalriada. Donald probably had an alliance with their King, since he and the Dalriadan monarch met in Forteviot and set down the rights and laws of the Gaels together in Forteviot, the Pictish palace.
Constantine I was the son of Kenneth I. In his reign Norse raiding reached a new peak, and all of Pictavia was “wasted” and “plundered”, before the British fort at Dumbarton was destroyed after a four month siege. After a battle at Dollar, Constantine was killed, probably in Atholl.
Aed succeeded his elder brother in 877, and possibly after a brief period with no King at all; the probable result of the devastation of the Kingdom. He was killed by his own household after a reign of about a year, and was the last named King of the Picts.
Between 878 and 889 there is confusion and there may not have been an accepted King at all; Eochaid and Giric are both mentioned as Kings, but the true situation remains a mystery. Eochaid was expelled from the Kingdom, and Giric may have been killed at the fort of Dundurn.
Donald II, son of Constantine, was their successor in about 889, perhaps having been an exile in Ireland. Pictavia was again “wasted” and this is the last mention of the place name. The Scots had a victory over the Danes, but in 900 Donald was killed by them at Dunnottar.
Constantine II was the son of Aed, and is supposed to have ruled for 43 years. He was the first to be called King of Alba, which from the Forth to the Moray Firth in his reign. War continued, with battles in Strathearn, Tyneside and most famously at Brunanburh.
Malcolm I became King when Constantine abdicated to become a monk. He was a son of Donald II. He invaded Moray and killed Cellach, probably the local King, and invaded Northumbria, raiding as far as the Tees. He may have ruled over Cumbria, and was killed at Fetteresso in the Mearns.
Indulf was a son of Constantine II, and may have been related to the Earl of Bernicia, Eadwulf. The fort at Edinburgh, previously Bernician, was abandoned to the Scots in his reign. He was killed in 962 in the north of his realm, possibly at Cullen, probably fighting Norse raiders.
King Dub was the son of Malcolm I and was also traditionally killed in the north, at Forres, at the hands of his fellow Scots. He won a battle against Cuilen, son of Indulf, at “Dorsum Crup” where the ruler of Atholl and the Bishop of Dunkeld were killed.
Cuilen then ruled from 967 to 971, possibly after Dub had been expelled from the Kingdom, and most of what is known of his reign takes place in the south. Battles were fought in Lothian, and Cuilen was killed by “Britons” presumably from Strathclyde, either in battle or a burning house.
Kenneth II, Dub’s brother supposedly followed Cuilen, but was involved in fighting the surviving brother of Cuilen, Amlaib until 977, so was perhaps not as clear as King-lists would have us believe. He then warred into Northumbria and Cumbria, and was killed at Fettercairn in the Mearns like his father.
Constantine III was the son of Cuilen. He became King soon after the death of Kenneth in 995, and was killed in battle with other “Albanians” at the unknown location of Rathinveralmond – either Cramond (possibilities include a Roman fort) or just north of Perth (a fort near Almondbank).
Kenneth III was the son of Dub, and is logically behind the death of Constantine. He ruled from about 997 until he was in his in turn killed at Monzievaird near Crieff in 1005. Nothing further is known of his reign, but his killer was not from the rival royal line.
Malcolm II was Kenneth’s cousin, son of Kenneth II. He ruled for over 30 years, and married his three daughters to powerful local rulers in Moray, Atholl and Orkney. In 1018 he made his heir ruler of Cumbria/Strathclyde, and after wars in England, made peace with her Danish conqueror, Cnut.
Duncan I was Malcolm’s grandson, and succeeded him in 1034. He ruled without incident until 1039, when a failed siege of Durham may have led to dissent amongst his nobility. Leading an army to Moray, he intended to crush his enemy MacBeth, but was instead killed in battle near Elgin.
MacBeth was married to Gruoch, grand-daughter of Kenneth III, and may have been of royal blood himself. His assumption of the throne was disputed unsuccessfully in battle by Crinan of Atholl. He ruled mostly peacefully after this until the English invaded in 1054, and was wounded near Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire.
Lulach was the son of Gruoch and therefore a great-grandson of Kenneth III. He was crowned at about the same time as MacBeth’s death from his wounds in 1057, but was chased into the hills back towards his native Moray, and was killed at Essie, in Strathbogie. His children escaped.
Malcolm III was the oldest son of Duncan I, and was sponsored by the Northumbrian Earl Siward. Having eliminated opposition to his rule, he married into the exiled native English dynasty after the Norman Conquest, and was killed with his heir raiding into Northumbria in defiance of the English King.
Donald III was Malcolm’s brother, and seized the throne in the confusion after the death of Malcolm and Edward in mid 1093. The surviving children of King Malcolm fled into exile, and the English advisors and household of the former Queen were ejected from court, possibly at the same time.
Duncan II was Malcolm’s eldest son by his first marriage. Disinherited by the King upon his more prestigious second marriage, he invaded with a Northumbrian army and his eldest half-brother Edmund. Donald fled, but shortly after being crowned, he was killed by the ruler of the Mearns in a rebellion.
Donald III resumed the throne for a second time in 1094 with Edmund as his heir, and possible co-ruler. Doubtless they were made aware of the agreement made by Edgar, Edmund’s younger brother, with William II of England that he would grant Edgar the Kingdom of Scotland as a gift.
Edgar was unable to take full advantage of this generous offer until 1097, when William finally gave him the support he needed, in the person of his grandfather Edgar Atheling, who led an army north. Donald and Edmund were expelled, and Edgar ruled without significant event for ten years more.
Alexander I succeeded his childless brother, the next eldest brother Ethelred being overlooked. He put down a rebellion in Moray after an assassination attempt in the Mearns, winning a battle on the edge of Ross. He married the illegitimate daughter of Henry I of England but there were no children.
David I was the youngest brother, and had spent much time at the English court. His succession in 1124 was disputed by Alexander’s illegitimate son Malcolm, and also by Earl Angus of Moray, a grandson of Lulach. David moved his capital to Roxburgh as he ruled much of Northern England.
Malcolm IV was David’s grandson, and was crowned aged 13. He suffered from rebellion in the north by the descendants of Duncan I, six of his Earls, the west, and Galloway. He was dominated by Henry II of England and served under him in France. He died unmarried, just 24.
William I was Malcolm’s brother, and reigned for nearly 50 years. Malcolm having lost Northumbria to Henry II, William repeatedly tried to regain it, but without success. He suffered rebellions against his rule in the north and west, and campaigned in Ross in person, building several castles in the north.
Alexander II was William’s son, and ruled from 1214 to 1249. He destroyed the rebel MacWilliams, (descended from William fitzDuncan), and their associates the MacHeths, and subdued Galloway. He married the sister of Henry III of England, and campaigned as far as Kent at the end of King Johns reign.
Alexander III became King aged 8, and in his minority there was bitter factional strife. He was able to settle this when he took control, and also defeated the Norse at the Battle of Largs. His two sons died before him, and was killed in a riding accident at Kinghorn.
Queen Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was the grand-daughter of Alexander III, and only 3 when the King died. She was brought to Scotland in 1289 and died soon afterwards. When it became clear that Alexander’s Queen was not to give birth, the Scottish royal dynasty was at an end.
King Edward I of England was asked to adjudicate between rival claimants for the throne. All of the many claimants were descendants of daughters of the royal family, but the main choice was between Robert Bruce and John Balliol. Having taken charge of the Kingdom temporarily, King Edward chose Balliol.
King John was not a successful King. The Bruce faction opposed him, and he was harassed into war with England by King Edward’s agents within four years. The result was almost inevitable. King Edward tore the royal arms from John’s surcoat and removed him from the throne, taking over himself.
Ten years of warfare with the occupying English followed, including the famous campaigns of William Wallace and in 1306 Robert Bruce junior, had himself crowned. He defeated King Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314, but was not acknowledged King by England or the Pope until 1327, late in his reign.
David II was the son of Robert Bruce, and was crowned aged 5. A succession of battles led by the nobility resulted in heavy Scottish defeats and David’s exile in France. Once home, he was captured and held prisoner in England until 1357. He died unexpectedly and childless, aged 40.
Robert II was David’s nephew, the son of Marjorie Bruce and Walter Stewart. After he was crowned in 1371, secured huge estates for his sons. His heir John of Carrick was Regent for 4 years before being overthrown by his brother Fife in 1388. King Robert then retired to Dundonald.
Robert III was previously known as John of Carrick. He had been injured by a horse kick, and was overthrown as Regent after his ally the Earl of Douglas was killed. As King he never ruled on his own, but was governed by Fife, who also murdered Robert’s heir David.
James I was sent to France just before his father King Robert died, but was captured and held in England for 18 years. Fife did little to free him, and neither did his son Murdoch. When James returned, he destroyed those he saw as enemies, including Murdoch and other nobles.
James II became King aged 6 when his father was assassinated in 1437. He looked likely to be a popular King when he took over, despite the civil war with the Douglas family in the 1450s. He was killed by an exploding cannon in 1460, besieging the English-held Roxburgh Castle.
James III became King aged 9, and had his own troubles with the Boyds, those opposed to peace with England, and with his own brother the Duke of Albany. Eventually his 15 year old heir was driven to rebel, and King James was killed in battle at Sauchieburn in 1488.
James IV seems not to have forgiven himself for being involved in his father’s death, wearing an iron chain round his waist as a penance. He annexed the Lordship of the Isles, and was eventually persuaded into invading England to honour his treaties. The result was his death in battle.
James V was not even 2 when he became King in 1514. Most of the Scottish nobility had died with his father at Flodden, and he had to overcome the Earl of Angus in order to rule. He persecuted Protestants and died after losing a battle in England in 1542.
Queen Mary was 6 days old when her father died, and was quickly sent to France for her safety, where she became Queen. She returned in 1561 to rule Scotland and married her cousin Lord Darnley, who was assassinated. She was forced to abdicate and fled to England in 1567.
James VI was crowned at 1 year old and said nothing when Elizabeth I had his mother Mary executed – he was Elizabeth’s heir. He became King of England in 1603, was interested in witchcraft, and wrote extensively. He survived the Gunpowder Plot, and unsuccessfully tried to reconcile his churches.
Charles I married a French Catholic and quarrelled with the English Parliament over his right to rule. He tried to impose Bishops on Scotland which led to war; the English Parliament supported the rebellious Scottish, and the end result was the Civil War and Charles execution in 1649 in England.
Charles II became King of Scots upon his father’s death but fled to Europe in 1651 after his defeat by Cromwell, who also ruled Scotland after 1650. When Cromwell died in 1658 it was not long before Charles II returned to popular acclaim, and reigned (with reduced powers) until 1685.
James VII was Charles’ younger brother, and was suspected of having strong Catholic tendencies. As a result the Earl of Argyll rebelled against him in Scotland, and was executed. As proof of his Catholic stance grew, William Prince of Orange was invited to take the throne. James fled to France.
William II was James’ son-in-law. A Jacobite rebellion in Scotland in 1689 failed to restore James VII, and ended with their defeat at Killiecrankie. William signed the orders behind the Massacre of Glencoe but avoided the blame, and refused help to the Scots after the failure of the Darien Scheme.
Mary II was joint monarch with William II, and reluctantly ruled the Kingdoms in her own right when he was on campaign in Europe and Ireland. She contracted smallpox in 1694, and died at the end of the year, having a childless marriage. William died 8 years later of pneumonia.
Queen Anne was Queen Mary’s younger sister and had become lame and obese by the time she became Queen. Despite 17 pregnancies, none of her children survived. In 1707, the fallout from Darien had all but bankrupted Scotland, and its Parliament agreed to Union with England and formed Great Britain.
King George I was born in Hanover. He was the closest Protestant relative of Anne, and was proclaimed King in 1714. Anne’s half-brother James had Catholic supporters, and Jacobites rebelled in his name. The 1715 Rising had insufficient support, and James fled back to France, ill, uncrowned, defeated and disappointed.
King George II succeeded his father in 1727, and had little power in Britain. He was the last British monarch to lead an army into battle in Germany in 1743. In 1745 another unsuccessful Jacobite Revolt took place, in the name of Charles, the son of the Old Pretender James.
King George III succeeded his grandfather in 1760. He was the first Hanoverian King with English as his first language, and although events were peaceful in Great Britain, his reign saw war with France and America. Highland dress had become illegal in 1746, but was permitted again under George III.
George IV had reigned as Prince Regent during his father’s infamous mental illness which started in 1811, and in his own right from 1820. He was unpopular due to extravagant spending and poor relationships with his father and wife, and was indulged heavily in laudanum, heavy drinking and enormous banquets.
William IV was George’s younger brother, and became King in 1830 aged 65. He had served in the Navy and was popular because of his hard work in comparison with his lazy brother. With no legitimate children, William lived with an actress for 20 years, with ten children by her.
Queen Victoria succeeded her uncle in 1837, aged 18. She restored the reputation of the monarchy, and helped Scotland become more popular following her purchase of Balmoral. After she was widowed, she went into seclusion in Scotland for over a decade, but returned to public life and reigned until 1901.